Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In saecula saeculorum

I know my dozens of readers depend and eagerly look forward to my razor sharp political analysis, but today I'm afraid I must disappoint. As my own disappointment with the Democrats has developed into malaise, I've been reaching for something hopeful to read, so I turned to an old friend: George Orwell.

I recently finished his short essay, The English Revolution. I'm not sure I would favor the level of socialism for which he argues, but he makes several interesting points.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Two words: one term

Last Friday a liberal friend of mine made a post to his Facebook that I was shocked to see, but I found it emblematic of larger issue, so I thought I'd share:
I just removed all my "Barak Obama" links. I know no one will run against him in the 2012 primary, but if anyone does, I will vote for that person. He's proven that he has absolutely no backbone. I regret ever having voted for him.
My response was the following:
I agree that he's a wimp, but I don't regret voting for him. Hindsight is 20/20. I think we should reelect Teddy Roosevelt. That guy knew how to get his agenda passed.
There's two points I like to make right away. First, my friend is not suggesting that we would have been better off with McCain/Palin. Instead, he's arguing we would have been better off with a different Democrat winning in 2008. Second, I'm only half joking when I say we could use another Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy made the choices he thought were best for the people as a whole and fought tooth and nail with every political tool he had to see his policies passed. I find it incredibly ironic that the great "trust buster" was a Republican, and they hated him for it. But many people think he made the right decision not only for workers but for business as well.

Other TR decisions -- particularly concerning the Panama Canal -- are historically less popular, but he acted with conviction and thought and made a choice without regret or remorse. Say what you want about the Canal, but Teddy never lost sleep over it; I doubt Obama will have the same luxury upon his presidency's end.

Given the picture I've painted of Teddy, he might remind readers of another president we've had recently: George W. Bush. I don't like Bush because I feel his policy decisions were terrible, but they were his and he clearly owns them, and there's something to be said for that.

Do I want another Bush? No. I don't really want another presidency like Bush's because in principle I don't approve of the "bully pulpit" legislative process that his presidency represented. I believe in collaboration and compromise, but the current debate over the Bush tax cuts spurs two interesting caveats to such an approach.

First, you cannot compromise with those who have no interest in comprising with you. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it, the Republican strategy is tax-cut blackmail, which is essentially the opposite of compromise. Krugman argues that the best Democratic strategy is to refuse engagement now before the blackmailing continues further, and I agree.

Second, there is no reason to assume that a compromised position is better than the position for which you currently advocate. Making such an assumption universally places process above principle. Based on the consequences that follow, there are times when compromise is warranted and times when it is not, and wise men know the difference.

Democrats, whether they admit it or not, are attempting to create greater equality of wealth by taxing the rich. Republicans ran in 2010 on reducing the deficit. Extending tax cuts will lead to greater wealth inequality and cost approximately $4 trillion over the next decade, which is anything but deficit neutral.

If Democrats fail to compromise, they actually achieve what they desire while at the same time holding Republicans true to their own campaign promises, so why compromise? Obama needs to understand -- like TR and W did -- that the role of the president is two-fold: making decisions shaped by public opinion and making decisions that shape public opinion. Voting down the tax cuts for the wealthy actually achieves both.

In any case, you have to make a damn decision, and Obama lets others make decisions for him, which makes him appear weak, it leaves Democrats searching desperately for a true leader, and it leaves progressives -- ironically enough -- hopeless. It's decision time for Obama, and the decision is this: "Do I want a second term?"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This pisses me off

A vague title I know, but there's no other way to describe it. I read in The New York Times today that all 42 Republic senators signed an agreement stating that they would block all legislation for the remainder of the legislative session until a deal is reached to extend the Bush tax cuts.

I am vehemently against extending these tax cuts, but I'm more enraged by the bullying tactics employed here. When you toe the party line, you run the risk of serving only the interests of your constituents, not the interests of the people as a whole. This instance is particularly egregious because all of the Republicans are in lockstep, as though they are of one mind and not 42. Think for yourselves, and more importantly for those you serve.

What's worse is the accusation from Senator Mitch McConnell, who said, "Last month, the American people issued their verdict on the Democrats’ priorities." The implication here is that Democrats are ignoring the will of the people, which is blatantly untrue regarding the tax cut issue. Only 29% of Americans favor extending the Bush tax cuts in their entirety, which is the current Republican position. It appears that the reverse of McConnell's accusation is true: at least on this issue, Republicans are ignoring the people's will.

Regardless, we have some serious problems to deal with both domestically and abroad, and blackmailing the opposition to achieve a single victory at the expense of shutting down the legislative branch of the government is flat out irresponsible. You represent the people. You look out for their interests. You legislate. It's your damn job, so do it. Don't take your ball and go home like a whiny 4 year old. Whether you support the tax cuts or not, this move by the Senate Republicans is essentially a giant "fuck you" to the American people, and that just pisses me off.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'm religious, but only when it's convenient

Both the Left and Right are guilty of using religion to further their agendas, but each has no problem strapping on the blinders when religious doctrine runs counter to the cause. Consider the following from the Pew Research Center:

When it comes to opposing same-sex marriage and abortion -- staples of the political Right -- conservatives report their religious backgrounds as important influencers of their decision making, which makes sense. The Bible has spatterings of passages condemning homosexuality -- Leviticus 11:22-23 perhaps being the most commonly cited -- and the New Testament in particular speaks to the sanctity and importance of human life.

Those same passages that support the preservation of life likely lead conservatives to shy away from religion as an influence on beliefs surrounding the death penalty. Consequently, liberals find their religion on this issue because there is greater support for the political Left's view, namely the condemnation of the death penalty.

I don't have a problem with either side cherry picking from religious doctrine in this manner. Anyone who believes wholeheartedly in any philosophy either founded it or is too damn foolish to question it meaningfully.

I do think, however, that it is important to admit that religion is referenced only when it is personally, socially or politically expedient. This selective use means that religion -- at best -- informs our decisions, it doesn't dictate them.

If we can look past belief to justify our positions when necessary, then belief is not enough to codify our positions into law. In other words, a secular society should and does depend on reason to establish law. Religion alone is not enough.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Religion and politics

The old adage to never talk about religion or politics will be broken here, as I'll be talking about both. Time to offend, I suppose. The spark: an interesting crossover between "politics in the pulpit" as the PEW Research Center calls it.

According to a recent study, 15% of churchgoers said that political information was made available to them during religious services at the time of the 2010 midterm. Even more alarming, 5% said their respective clergymen urged them to vote a particular way.

Regular readers should know that my personal faith is waning, but regardless, I believe a separation of church and state is good not only for government, but for religion too. If religion begins sticking its nose is politics, the reverse is bound to happen -- and arguably already is.

And of course there are individuals ignorant of constitutionally-based separation, perhaps the most famous being former Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell. Granted, she is probably the most moronic of the latest crop of political sideshows, but her notoriety provides a platform for disseminating stupidity.

A point of clarification: the phrase "separation of church and state" does not explicitly appear in the constitution, but the First Amendment has been interpreted such a manner almost from its inception. Consider the following from a letter to the Danbury Baptists by Thomas Jefferson in 1802:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Most attribute the notion of separation to this letter, and the reader will notice that Jefferson justifies this notion of separation by quoting the First Amendment, so clearly there is a constitutional precedent.

Religion and politics should be separate in this country, but that wall may be eroding. I'm optimistic to see that 85% of churchgoers aren't getting political messages during services, but are they getting such messages from churches outside the walls of worship? Probably. And is the number of clergymen urging a particular vote on the rise or the decline? I would bet the former, but I hope the latter is true. Maybe a future longitudinal study will provide some answers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Disbelief on global warming

Image by Mike Edwards
Global warming is a hot button and strangely partisan issue according to the PEW Research Center. Apparently, 53% of Republicans do not believe there is any evidence for global warming, up from 31% in 2007.

I find this shift interesting. My perception is that, about a decade ago, most Republicans shared this opinion. Then the rhetoric changed to agreeing that the problem existed, but that it was already too late to take action.

As conservative humorist P.J. O'Rourke puts it: "My argument is that we can't do anything [about climate change]. So, my suggestion is to install air conditioning and buy beachfront land in Greenland."

Now we're back to disbelief. Very odd, I think.

By no means am I an expert on climate change, but my perception is that the scientific community believes it is occurring, so I defer to their expertise. Wherever you stand on this issue, I think we could all agree with Bill O'Reily; and no, that's not a typo -- I said Bill O'Reily:
"My opinion is a cleaner planet is better for everyone. So I don't care whether it's the automobiles that are making it dirty or some guys in Ohio with smoke stacks or it's the natural cycle of the universe. It doesn't matter. When we have a cleaner planet it's better for everyone. So let's all work together to get the planet clean. That's all."
That's a good starting point, I feel.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Process over substance

The expiration of the Bush tax cuts is on the horizon, and since the resurgence of Republican power during the midterm elections, it seems an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy is inevitable. But why would this be, considering that -- at least during the election -- Democrats campaigned on repealing cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy and the political "left" still controls the Senate and the veto power of the presidency?

Paul Krugman offers an interesting solution in an op-ed article in today's New York Times. In short, Obama is a political pussy.

I've been avoiding such emotionally charged language in my posts as of late, but I can't hold back on it any longer. If I vote for a Republican, he or she will take action that is usually in line with the campaign rhetoric. If I vote for a Democrat, he or she will fail to represent my interests in favor of promoting bipartisanship.

As Krugman puts it, Obama "defined America’s problem as one of process, not substance." Obama and the Democrats as a whole have elected to place the process of bipartisanship above the achievement of substantive legislation, and what has that gotten us? Gitmo is still open; "don't ask, don't tell" is still in place; we still lack meaningful economic reform; campaign financing is a mess; the Supreme Court lacks leadership from the left; health care reform stopped short of, well, reform; and now the deficit disaster tax cuts will likely continue.(And isn't reducing the deficit one of your things Tea partiers? I'm just saying.)

And the right has played Obama against himself perfectly. Knowing that he seeks compromise and opens negotiations from a moderate point, they counter with an offer from the extreme right, painting Democratic policy decisions with buzz words like "socialist" or "elitist." The Democratic response is to compromise from an already compromised position, moving legislation to a new center, which is in actuality the political right.

This scenario is maddening. The real outrage from the left doesn't come from a misunderstanding on the part of the electorate, but rather a misunderstanding on the part of the politician. Voters on the progressive side of the isle have no true voice; they are relegated to voting for Democrats, who are legislative centrists at best.

So I guess my holiday wish is for the Democrats we send to Washington to stand up on behalf of their principles, if not for their constituents then for themselves. If it were me, I'd rather lose my position because I fought and failed than because I lacked the courage and political will to do what I thought was right. So sack up!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The nonvoter

PEW research conducted an interesting study of nonvoters -- and considering that only 40% of adults vote in midterm election, nonvoters become that much more important.

According to PEW, when compared to likely voters, nonvoters are "younger, less educated and more financially stressed." In other words, they're Democrats.

In fact, nonvoters are typically more liberal on most issues than the general population and favor activist federal government. None of that information is particularly surprising. I'm young and financially stressed and I'd welcome a leg up too.

But if your wondering why Republicans may regain control of Congress in the coming days -- and they are projected to -- the answer is very simple. Throw out all the concern over the Citizens United ruling, the influence of corporations, the power of lobbyists, and the persuasiveness of fear, and you're left with a simple truth: Republicans vote, Democrats don't.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reelecting Obama?

The folks over at the PEW Research Center published some interesting results concerning midterm opinions about reelecting sitting presidents.

There's a lot in the study to talk about, but this chart is what interests me the most:

PEW argues that, while a majority of individuals don't want to reelect Obama (only 47% favor a second term), Obama's numbers are much higher than Reagan's were during the same time in his presidency (only 36% of Americans favored a second term for him).

There seems to me, however, to be a pattern here that PEW is overlooking. Of the presidents listed -- Clinton, Bush, Reagan, and Carter -- only those with low midterm voter support actually succeeded in winning second terms. The election of a Republican Congress in '94 helped Clinton win in '96, and then for Reagan there was Mondale. Enough said.

If the pattern holds, perhaps a midterm Republican victory would lift Obama to a second term... that or if he runs against a political moron, Sarah Palin being the most obvious fit.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rebublicans, taxes, and manufacturing opinion

Today Republicans offered up their "Pledge to America" should they take control of the House in the upcoming elections. According to an article in The New York Times, Republicans are demanding that issues on their agenda be discussed, "including making lower tax rates for all taxpayers permanent, holding back federal spending, repealing the health-care overhaul enacted this year and reducing the federal deficit."

I find the desire to repeal the health care bill a bit odd, particularly because many of the changes it was designed to make have not yet been implemented (in fact, several points of the plan are just going into effect today). There's not much evidence to say this bill is a failure, so repeal seems premature.

Deficit spending is a problem. We should just admit that. However, during recessions and depressions, deficit spending is common and it has been argued that such practices can help economies rebound. The question is not one of should we cut spending, but when. Some feel the time is now; others think it's too soon. This debate is worth having.

This whole thing about cutting taxes and making the Bush tax cuts permanent is just odd. It seems, more than anything else, to be an attempt to placate what we perceive to be a majority view. Perceive is the key word. Consider the following from Pew reported just 3 days ago:

Most people don't feel as though they are overtaxed. This is not to say there is a call for increases, but the idea that the public is clamoring for lower taxes is a manufactured opinion. Moreover, roughly 60% of the population is for either eliminating the Bush tax cuts all together or at least eliminating them for the wealthiest among us.

The saddest -- and perhaps most dangerous -- aspect of this whole scenario is the fact that this manufactured opinion will likely shape media and political discourse during this election season. Unlike past elections which are often based on lies, this one may be based on a fabrication spun out of control, which is much more insidious.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Losing my religion

It seems this new professor gig I've landed has seriously changed the focus of this blog from blind rage to curious intrigue. Hopefully you handful of readers find both as interesting as I do.

Anyway, yet again, some more numbers from Pew that I found interesting. As it turns out, over two-thirds of Americans believe religion is losing ground as an influential part of society and politics. Here's a more detailed breakdown:

An interesting change over the past 4 years, no doubt. The more intriguing question, for me anyway, is whether this decrease in influence is seen as positive or negative. According to the report, 53% see this shift as bad, while only 10% view it as positive. This is one of the few times that I, as a white male, can consider myself part of the minority. The Man is walking all over me...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Confusion over Republican policies

The good folks at PEW have an interesting new study out concerning Republican counter-proposals to the agenda of Obama and the Democrats.

Overall, people seem to favor the idea of allowing individuals to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes at their leisure (I agree). Also, people generally oppose the replacing of Medicare with a private voucher system (I agree), yet paradoxically oppose the new health care bill (I disagree. My position on health care reform is that we didn't do enough, not that we did too much).

By far the most interesting results concern the Bush tax cuts:

People are almost evenly split across income levels about repealing the tax cuts for the wealthy; oddly, it seems that the richest Americans favor taxing the wealthy slightly more so than do the poorest. Perhaps people don't always vote their wallets after all, something I've long suspected and even known.

The way I see it, if the wealthy don't generally mind anteing up a little more, I don't see why we shouldn't take them up on the offer, considering we're broke and all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Opinions about the "Terror Mosque"

I was looking at an interesting study from the folks over at Pew concerning Americans' opinions about Islam as a whole and the building of the mosque near Ground Zero.

This graphic above I found to be most interesting. Opposition to building the mosque correlated with political conservativism, lower education, and increased age. There are still sizable percentages of liberals, young adults, and educated individuals who oppose the mosque.

I personally have now problem with it, but given my demographic that should be no surprise. My good friend Jon Stewart probably sums up this whole should-we-or-shouldn't-we debate best: "One side says our weakness emboldens jihadis. The other side says our strength embitters jihadis. How 'bout we try a new system where we don't give a fuck about what they think."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fox commits journalistic suicide

I thought MSNBC's deal with Starbucks was a horrible decision, and it was, but at least it only compromised the integrity of one show -- Morning Joe -- not the entire network. Rupert Murdoch's call for his News Corporation to donate $1 million to the Republican's Governor's Association is simply mind blowing.

I don't understand how the News Corporation -- the media group that owns Fox News and The Wall Street Journal among others -- can even claim any level of journalistic distance, objectivity, and/or integrity after this one. Unprecedented and unreal.

The only question I have is whether this is just the beginning, not only for the News Corporation but for media conglomerates in general. Is this what happens when news outlets eventually fall under the ownership of a handful of companies with narrow agendas? Say it ain't so.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Arizona and Immigration

Photo by Wing-Chi Poon
I was reading in The New York Times today that a judge has blocked several controversial parts of Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070.

Among other things, SB 1070 authorizes police officers to detain individuals whom they suspect may be illegal immigrants. It also makes the act of not carrying immigration papers a criminal misdemeanor.

Federal Judge Susan Bolton ruled that such actions allow state laws to supersede federal law and thus must not be enforced, which I feel is a weak argument.

I sympathize with the Arizona state government. Immigration is a huge issue (and potentially a problem) for the state as well as several other states along the Southern border. Federal reform is needed but never seems to come, so Arizona took action because it felt something needed to be done.

Though I sympathize, I certainly don't agree. I think Arizona acted rashly in creating a law that causes a considerable inconvenience to legal residents by mandating racial profiling on an unprecedented scale.

Regardless of your feelings about the law or Arizona's actions, I think you'd be hard pressed to defend SB 1070 as a practical solution. It's impossible to enforce a law of that magnitude; the number of suspects is simply too large. It's a massive drain on the law enforcement officials who could spend their time in more productive ways.

Consider Governor Jan Brewer's response to the ruling: "This fight is far from over. In fact, it is just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens."

I respect the desire to protect the citizenry, but how much does deporting illegal immigrants protect citizens -- especially when you compare the cost of doing so to a decrease in manpower to combat more serious crime?

To me the solution would be to check the legal status of anyone arrested by the police. If you are in this country illegally and are causing a great enough disturbance to merit an arrest, then a quick paperwork check is merited. If you are here illegally simply going about your day and causing no harm to anyone, why not just leave well enough alone? I just don't believe the problem is of such great magnitude.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We put the "cycle" in recycle

Photo by dno 1967
Transitional periods are a fun part of life, but time consuming -- which explains why I haven't posted in awhile.

I recently graduated from the University of Georgia and uprooted myself from my Athens apartment to move back to my hometown, Louisville, KY. On the plus side, I have a degree. On the downside, I am now unemployed.

Since my income is next to nothing, I've been cutting back. I don't make as many purchases, I'm living in my parents basement, and an expensive beer has been redefined as PBR (which stands for "Preferred Beer of the Recession" for those of you in the dark).

One of the biggest things I've done is convert extra time into extra money by doing regular maintenance on my car myself as opposed to taking it to the shop. Typically this amounts to quick fluid changes, but recently it led to a frustrating adventure that got me thinking, so I thought I would share.

A few weeks back I flushed my car's coolant system, which resulted in about 4 gallons of tainted antifreeze of which to dispose.

Now engine coolant is some nasty stuff. Basically it consists of ethylene glycol, which is fairly poisonous and can easily kill small animals. On top of that danger, once antifreeze has been running in an engine for 30,000 miles, it collects moderately high levels of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and chromium.

For these reasons, the EPA recommends waste antifreeze be treated as hazardous material. In most states, simply dumping it is illegal. At best you can flush small amounts down your toilet. More often than not, however, states mandate that it be recycled.

I try to be environmentally responsible and do the right thing, so I set about recycling my old antifreeze. First, I called Auto Zone to see if they would take it seeing as they recycle used engine oil. No dice.

Next, I checked the Louisville Metro Government Web site to see if the city recycling program would be of help. Turns out, the city does recycle antifreeze but "only at the staffed recycling locations."

No problem. A quick check of drop off locations and I find that there are five. The Southwest Government Center is nearest my house, so I head there.

"We don't take that," was the unexpected greeting I received. I was told to drive to an E-Scrap recycling center on Meriwether Avenue.

"We don't take that," said the staff at Meriwether. But I was in luck. A liquid recycling center on Grade Lane recycles antifreeze.

"We don't take that," was familiar by this point. The liquid recycling center told me to drive up the road to Waste Management, the company who handles most of the city's garbage disposal.

This time, a slightly different answer: "We don't recycle that." There I was told that I could just throw it away or dump in in my backyard, so long as no one was watching.

The reasoning behind that suggestion was hilarious. "Back in the old days," I was told, "engines used 100% antifreeze. Now we use that 50/50 stuff, so it's no big deal." I'm not sure if engines ever ran with 100% antifreeze in the radiator, but one half of poison is still poison.

Frustrated, I called the Louisville Metro Government for help, and they suggested I go to a staffed recycling location. Back to square one, and explaining my adventure to the nice woman trying to help. She suggested I try the Central Government Center on Outer Loop.

Success! Finally I recycled my antifreeze. It only took me an entire afternoon of crossing the city in what amounted to a 44 mile journey. Hopefully all the carbon monoxide spewing from my 1992 Plymouth didn't cancel out the good.

Now that my ordeal is over, I just have one question: Why was that so fucking hard?! With the right information, that could have been a one and done trip. Instead, I was bounced around Louisville like a damn pinball.

Still, I couldn't help think this whole scenario was a beautiful metaphor for something I'd read recently in Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff. Leonard describes the cycle that our stuff goes through from its creation to the time we simply throw it away.

Wealthier nations have depleted most of their natural resources by now, so we tend to get materials from poorer nations. Similarly, we often pass the trash buck as well because the hassle of disposal as well as the resultant environmental damage are beyond what we want to deal with.

This perpetual story of "not in my backyard" is lazy and irresponsible. That's sort of how I felt about my city when I was trying to recycle my antifreeze: like I was visiting an endless cycle of accountable individuals ducking responsibility.

In my case, however, I think it would have been simpler to just deal with the damn problem. Simply have 5 locations around the city to handle hazardous waste as opposed to one. This would be infinitely more convenient, and inconvenience is probably the biggest obstacle to environmentally sustainable behavior.

I wonder if the "hassle" of simply accepting responsibility for our own waste on the larger scale is actually less of a pain than making it someone else's problem.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Financial Reform

Apologies for neglecting this blog over the past month. Since the health care bill passed I haven't had much to say about prominent issues (though I still insist that we need universal health care and I am not satisfied with the bill).

Well, the S.E.C. lawsuit against Goldman Sachs and the clear intentions of Obama and Congressional Democrats to institute meaningful financial reform have given me something to reflect upon.

Obama gave a timely speech this week in New York outlining his basic financial reform plan. I thought he did a pretty good job not only laying out his ideas, but also making an argument that banking lobbyists have promoted a false choice between free markets or strangled economy.

To me, these reforms are pretty modest, but they would go a long way at protecting consumers. Limiting executive bonuses, restricting risky investments, calling for greater transparency on derivatives, allowing shareholders a larger say in organizational policy, and shrinking the size of large banks are all good ideas. My feeling is that such measures would help get us off of this boom/bust cycle and back to something more stable, which is more desirable for most people.

This speech comes on the heels of the S.E.C.'s charge that Goldman Sachs fraudulently misled its customers into investing in mortgage-backed securities that the organization knew were worthless. On top of that, Goldman Sachs took out insurance on these securities, essentially betting that they would fail. Turning to our good friend, Jon Stewart...these fucking guys:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
These F@#king Guys - Goldman Sachs
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

It's insane to me that the scenario described above might actually be legal. Even The New York Times is reporting that the S.E.C. may actually have a difficult case in proving Goldman Sachs committed a crime. That is simply unreal.

One of the company's main arguments is that it didn't actually turn a profit on these investments, but that doesn't make its actions any less wrong. That's like saying you shouldn't be charge for robbing a bank because the money fell out of your van during the getaway.

Still, I think this legal battle is a win-win, largely because the story is too big to ignore and its implications are too great. Goldman Sachs has to fight the charges to maintain any credibility. If Goldman Sachs loses, then there is concrete proof that Wall Street banking firms are committing fraud and should thus be regulated further. If Goldman Sachs wins, people will be pissed off that what the company did is actually legal and -- hopefully -- demand reform.

What I don't understand is Republican opposition to even discussing tighter regulation. To some degree or another, most national politician are in bed with these guys, but that doesn't mean you have to get fucked. This move is political suicide. Anger at the financial district is probably the most bipartisan emotion in this country. I could understand defending them through argument (at least in theory), but to not even allow the argument to be made is just nuts. More than anything, I'm curious to see what the Republicans have up their collective sleeve on this one.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reconciling Senate differences

I've been hearing a lot about the political process of reconciliation lately, seeing as the Democratic super majority no longer exists -- and for practical purposes never really did. A large tent means diverse views, and it's hard to get everyone on the same page.

I don't really understand the process all that well, but from what I can gather, it began in 1974 to eliminate the possibility of filibustering budget-specific legislation. Since then, the use of the measure has been extended in ways it was never intended, but I like it.

Essentially, it returns us to a simple "majority rules" position. When the filibuster was introduced early in our country's history as a leftover of parliamentary procedure, political parties didn't really exist -- or at the very least they were not so divided. Gaining 60 votes for important measures was probably much easier, but now the game of politics supersedes the importance of progress, health care being just one example.

I don't really have a problem with the Republican standpoint other than the fact that they disingenuously stand for nothing. The claim is that they want to amend the bill, but the ways in which they wish to do so are largely unclear. Mostly we hear about tort reform, which would make it more difficult to sue doctors frivolously and lower the cost of health care by lowering malpractice insurance. Okay. Fine. I like that, but it's not enough.

The only other complaint I here frequently is the idea of pork barrel spending, which is a direct result of trying to set up state-run insurance pools -- which would not be an issue had the public option or single-payer system been set up nationally. The problem of pork resulted directly from a compromise that the Republicans demanded and are now scoring political points for actually landing.

It seems fairly evident to me that Republicans could care less bout health reform; rather, they are interested in defeating Obama and gaining political ground. Our good friend Mr. Stephen Colbert sums it up best:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Health Care Marriage Counseling
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

It's pure politics. And the Democrats are just as guilty at this point. They need this legislation to save face, but in an attempt to pass it in a bipartisan matter, they've allowed too much compromise to water it down. It seems like everyone has forgotten that keeping their job is secondary to actually doing it.

I say it's time to use the reconciliation measure and slam this thing through. With only 51 votes needed, Democrats could easily get a public option in as part of the bill -- potentially even something resembling single-payer -- and we might see some real change.

Republicans are complaining endlessly about the process of reconciliation, arguing that it undermines the intentions of the founders, but according to The New York Times, 16 of the 22 bills passed using reconciliation were done while Republican were in control, most notably the creation of COBRA, the Bush tax cuts, and welfare reform. Republicans weren't complaining then -- Democrats were. Nobody likes to loose, and reconciliation favors the majority, but so does democracy, so deal with it.

I simply don't buy the argument that reconciliation necessarily leads to bad legislation. Legislating leads to bad legislation because people are flawed and make poor decisions. That doesn't mean, however, that legislating is bad or that reconciliation in the case of health reform will be bad. In all likelihood, we'd be better off passing a more comprehensive bill than rolling over and doing nothing.

The only problem is that it would take some courage on the part of Democrats, a resource they lack seeing as protecting their own jobs appears more important. But the reality is that Americans elected these people to affect meaningful change, and if they don't, we'll fire them just as quickly. The Republicans know this, so they're waiting it out, which is a smart move.

For the Democrats, the smart move is to take a chance and attempt to serve their constituents, to do what they think is best. Even if they lose their respective elections because of it, at least they might maintain some respect.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Growing corporate influence

According to The New York Times, the Supreme Court narrowly decided (5-4) to allow corporations to give limitlessly to promote or oppose political candidates during election seasons. The ruling overturned several past precedents of campaign finance set by the Court over the last century.

I have already spoken about the danger of expanding corporate rights to the point where they outweigh the rights of the individual. Free speech exists more to protect the minority opinion than to provide grounds on which majority -- and more importantly, moneyed -- voices can drown it out. Not to mention the fact corporations are not people and should not be extended the all the rights of personhood.

The Court sided with corporate interest, which has been a predictable trend under Roberts. Blurring the lines between politics and corporate finance is dangerous ground on many fronts. As far as I can see it, there is nothing to stop the few individuals at the top of an organization from using corporate money to advance personal interests, an unhealthy proposition for organizational stockholders and democratic interests in general.

The 2010 midterm elections should provide a glimpse into how this law will effect future elections, but the bigger tell will probably come with the 2012 general elections, given the scale of the presidential race combined with the "practice round" experience from 2010. My feeling as that we are treading treacherous waters and that, years from now, we may look back on this ruling as a landmark in the erosion of personal rights and a major step in the domination of the democratic process by the wealthiest voices.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Move Your Money" Movement

I was watching The Colbert Report yesterday - which sadly appears to feature more news than NBC, CBS, or ABC - and learned about an interesting movement called, "Move Your Money."

Essentially the idea is to get money away from large, seemingly corrupt banks to prevent them from using it to lobby for loose regulation. More implicitly, however, it seems to be a punishment for wrongdoings on the part of banking institutions, which is of greater interest to me.

I've always believed that the most important vote you can make is the one you make with your dollar. For instance, I am a supporter of the American auto industry for numerous reasons, so naturally I am concerned. When manufacturers like GM, Chrysler, and Ford began seeing declines in the middle of last decade, it was because buyers cast an important - and probably correct - vote. They bought more affordable, reliable, and fuel efficient vehicles from foreign manufacturers, which, in truth, is the best thing customers can do not only for themselves but also for industry. By purchasing the best product on the market, it encouraged change on the part of failing competitors (Ford being a notable example) or the weeding out of poor products (GM and Chrysler for instance, who were rescued by taxpayer money).

I don't think people will be making a run on the major banks because doing business with them affords many conveniences (multiple branches, ATM access, etc.), but the idea intrigues me because it is simple and it probably would work: if you don't like it, don't buy it.